Curious City Vaccine Photo Vox
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

From ‘Cautious’ To ‘Blessed’: Chicagoans Reflect On Getting Vaccinated

Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Curious City Vaccine Photo Vox
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

From ‘Cautious’ To ‘Blessed’: Chicagoans Reflect On Getting Vaccinated

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As Chicago prepares to start vaccinating people who are eligible under its Phase 1C plan and the city marks one year since the stay-at-home order, Curious City checked in with people who just received the COVID-19 vaccine to find out what it means to them.

At Esperanza Health Centers’ vaccination site in Gage Park, the goal is to vaccinate around 300 residents of Chicago Lawn, Gage Park and West Englewood each day as part of the city’s Protect Chicago Plus program. At Rush University Medical Center on the Near West Side, an all-volunteer team provides vaccines to around 1,200 eligible people daily. At both sites, Curious City stopped people on their way out and asked them how they were feeling, what the vaccine meant to them, and what they were most looking forward to now that they were vaccinated.

Some felt a renewed sense of freedom after receiving the vaccine; others continued to feel cautious, and said their lifestyle was unlikely to change in an effort to protect their family members who are still not eligible for the vaccine. But, from essential workers to older folks to residents of zip codes highly impacted by the pandemic, all agreed: Getting the COVID-19 vaccine is emotional and for many brings a sense of relief and hope. Responses have been edited for clarity.

Here’s what some of them had to say:

Margarita Balleno
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Margarita Balleno is a 60-year-old Marquette Park resident who normally has a “phobia of needles.”

So, she was slightly nervous about getting the vaccine. However, she said, “I overcame my fear, thank God, and I don’t feel anything so far.”

“They said [the vaccine] would be painful, but it didn’t cause me pain,” she said. “I feel good.”

Her husband, Augusto, 67, had COVID-19 last year and spent a month in the hospital. It was very important for them both to get the vaccine, Balleno said. “With everything that happened with the pandemic, [the vaccine] will protect us.”

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?


Eva Ozarowski lives on the Far North Side. The 90-year-old Holocaust survivor was born in Warsaw, Poland, but she has lived in Chicago for the last seven years.

She and her son decided to wait longer than the standard 15-minute observation period to make sure she did not have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. But Ozarowski said she didn’t experience any of the adverse reactions she was worried about. “So far, so good,” she said.

“I was stuck at home, but I was busy,” she said of the past year. She’s had help with grocery shopping from her son and daughter-in-law, who live in Skokie. “Do I like not being able to go places? Do I like not being able to shop for myself? Do I like not being able to see people? No! But I am not climbing walls. Because I keep busy. I read, I sleep — I manage.” Ozarowski said the only thing she’s been able to go out to do is go to doctor’s visits. “That’s no fun!”

“I moved to Chicago because I have a son and a daughter-in-law here. This’ll be the first time we can really be together [in a year], for Passover.” And even so, they’ll have to stay “six feet apart!” Other things she’s looking forward to doing include visiting her great-grandchildren, who live in Israel, and simple things like being able to do her own shopping again.

Eva Ozarowski
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?


Juan Favela
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Juan Favela is a 30-year-old West Lawn resident. He’s currently unemployed but previously had a job distributing posters and flyers for events and performances. “It’s been pretty rough,” he said of being unemployed during a global pandemic. “But you gotta keep your head high.”

“I’m feeling fine,” he said about the vaccine. “Who would have expected this a year ago… I’m confident in the shot. I have no qualms about it right now.”

Favela’s brother had a baby during the pandemic, and Juan’s looking forward to spending time with his niece. He said the thing he’s most excited about is “having a regular cookout— like actually have birthday parties where we can actually hug.”

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?


Cassandra Crume, 54, lives in Sauk Village. She works for the Flying Food Group, a company that provides meals to airlines.

She just received her first dose of the vaccine. “I’m feeling good. I was anxious and nervous beforehand,” she said. She was worried about the possible side effects, but she’s feeling a little less anxious now. “I feel a little more comfortable with what’s going on in the world now. … I feel a little bit at ease.”

Crume doesn’t think the vaccine will change her daily life right away. “I’m mostly a homebody anyway, so I’m not really out in public that much.” But she’s excited to spend time outside, cooking and barbecuing with family in her backyard. “Seeing more family,” she said, “definitely looking forward to that.”

Cassandra Crume
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?

“At ease.”

Tim Ostrander
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Tim Ostrander is 80 years old and lives in Prospect Heights. He’s a retired administrator at the Moody Bible Institute.

He said the shot was “painless” — which is “the way it ought to be.”

Ostrander said it was a little difficult to get signed up for the vaccine, but he’s feeling great now that he’s had his first dose. “I think we’re going to be fine from here on in.”

He said the vaccine gives him “a degree of freedom” — especially when it comes to spending time with family.

He’s looking forward to traveling to South Carolina in the spring after he receives his second dose of the vaccine. But he doesn’t expect his or his wife’s lifestyle to change too much, in general.

“Having [the vaccine] behind us, you do feel a little freer… there’s an air of optimism.”

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?


Maria Teresa Orozco is 55 years old and lives in West Lawn. She does not currently work because of a disability she has lived with since being in a car accident.

She previously tried making vaccine appointments at several locations but was unable to. “I was so frightened of this … to go to a hospital for this reason [because of COVID-19],” she said. So, she was pleasantly surprised that she was able to get an appointment at Esperanza Health Centers after hearing about the vaccination site from her daughter.

She said the vaccine felt “like nothing.”

Orozco said she has a message for anyone who is skeptical about the vaccine. “I say it for everybody, to the people that don’t believe this, this is really something that you have to do. Get those strange things out of your mind and do it! Because, hey, it’s better to do it right, since the beginning. Why wait for something bad [to happen]?”

“Go for it. Because that’s part of life! To keep on going.”

Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?

“Come on [get vaccinated]!”

Robert Trotter
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Robert Trotter, 43, lives in the Chicago suburb of Lansing. He’s a field engineer for Union Pacific railroad.

He and his wife, who works as a home healthcare aid, are both considered essential workers. “We knew eventually we were going to [get the vaccine], we just didn’t know when,” Trotter said. He has three children — ages 20, 17 and 13 — and wants to have the whole family vaccinated as soon as the kids become eligible. But he said when two appointments became available earlier last week, he and his wife decided they should take them. “If we can get in, let’s just go ahead and do it.”

They both got their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. “It was a pretty good experience,” he said. “It’s going a lot quicker than what I think is being said,” Trotter said of the vaccine rollout. “Especially if you’re in 1A or 1B.”

What does the vaccine mean for his life? “I don’t know yet,” he said. “Because we’re not going to go crazy. We’re just trying to be safe. … We’re still going to be cautious even though we are vaccinated, because we don’t want to bring it back home to the kids.”

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?


Joe Alvarez, 37, lives in Brighton Park. He’s an air traffic controller and works in Aurora.

Alvarez said the experience of getting the vaccine was somewhat “anti-climactic” after such a chaotic year. He said he didn’t even feel the needle and his reaction could be summed up as: “That was it?”

Emotionally, he’s feeling like there’s finally a “light at the end of the tunnel.”

He said he’s starting to see air traffic picking back up again, which to him is a sign that things are going back to normal. Alvarez said his parents and sister are already vaccinated, so the thing he’s looking forward to most is having family over.

Joe Alvarez
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?


Meghan Murphy-Gill
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ
Meghan Murphy-Gill is a 41-year-old writer and newly-ordained deacon in the Episcopal church. She lives in Edgewater.

Murphy-Gill was interning as a chaplain at Rush University Medical Center just prior to the pandemic as part of her training to become a deacon. She continued to work as a chaplain through the end of May 2020, and filled in as a chaplain at Rush last summer and fall. In that role, she helped comfort people who were dying, and was at the bedside of many people in their final moments.

Murphy-Gill said when she came in for her appointment she kept thinking, “Do I deserve this vaccine?”

She didn’t expect to feel the “overwhelming sense of sadness” that she experienced when she arrived for her appointment. She actually started crying when they called her name. “It just welled up inside, it was very physical,” she said. “I think it comes from the work and the loss that I’ve seen, the loss that I’ve witnessed.”

She hopes healthcare workers can find time to process their sadness and grief once there’s space for that.

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?


Karen Rosas is a 25-year-old insurance agent who lives in Little Village. She’s also a student who’s in her senior year of a psychology program. “I feel like this whole journey of the pandemic has taught me that mental health is something that’s really vital to everyone’s health in general,” she said. After graduating, she hopes to do community work in Little Village.

Physically, Rosas said she was feeling “a little sore in my arm, but nothing crazy.”

Finally getting the vaccine feels “kind of trippy,” she said. “Also [I’m] kind of relieved that there is some sort of — not a fix, but something that can prevent other people from getting sick.”

“It means protecting my parents a little more,” she said about what the vaccine means to her. Her parents are already vaccinated and she feels good that she can help protect them.

She’s looking forward to “spending time with people I actually care about.”

Karen Rosas
Maggie Sivit / WBEZ

A word that sums up your feelings about the vaccine?


About our questioner

Born and raised in Chicago, Michelle Vargas is a bilingual social studies teacher at Curie High School. She lives in Portage Park with her wife Sandy and their two daughters: Two-year-old Persephone and five-month-old Aelish. And the whole family has had an interesting year.

Just a few days before the pandemic shut down Chicago last March, Michelle found out she was pregnant. Because she has respiratory issues that led to complications in her first pregnancy, the household immediately went into quarantine.

“Practically my entire pregnancy we were completely on lockdown,” she said. “I don’t even think many of my friends have met my [younger] daughter.”

Michelle recently got her first dose of the vaccine, and she found herself unexpectedly bursting into tears. The doctor administering her vaccine asked her, “What does this vaccine mean to you?,” which prompted her to write to Curious City to ask if we could pose that same question to others in the Chicago area.

Personally, Michelle feels like she can breathe a little easier now that the vaccine has arrived. “It’s not that it’s a solution and it doesn’t mean we’re gonna let up on our safety procedures,” she said. “But it does mean that we’re moving in the right direction.” Michelle said she is looking forward to some simple markers of normalcy, like game nights with friends, or going outside “without a hazmat suit.”

Her second dose is scheduled for later this month.

Steven Jackson is a senior audio producer for Curious City. Follow him @jeven_stackson.

Maggie Sivit is a digital and engagement producer for Curious City. Follow her @magisiv.